Brave Englishmen defend the power of the Jury.

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Offline the leveller

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Brave Englishmen defend the power of the Jury.
« on: August 13, 2014, 05:11:39 PM »
                     Brave Englishmen defend the power of the Jury.

On September 3rd 1670 the trial of Quaker William Penn and William Mead began at the Central Criminal Court in London, they having been accused of assembling for worship at Gracechurch Street meeting house, contrary to the Conventicle Act which established the one legal church, the Church of England and when barred by troops, held the meeting in the street.  They were accused of “conducting an unlawful and tumultuous assembly.. to the disturbance of the peace”.

Prior to this trial 12 luckless citizens were rounded up and pressed into jury service.  Despite Magna Charta’s 450 year old guarantee of “trial by one’s equals” English juries were expected to obey the authorities and the court’s wishes.

Neither Penn nor Mead denied holding a conventicle but claimed the right to religious freedom under Magna Charta.  The jury, having spent many hours in uncomfortable conditions were told that when they had convicted the prisoners they would be offered a sumptuous banquet.  The jury retired to consider its verdict –expected in about a quarter of an hour.

An hour later, no jury appeared.  After an hour and a half only 8 jurors appeared and the court officials were told to bring out the others. The court was told that the jury had no verdict.  Enraged the Court sent them back to re-consider. Half an hour later they returned.  Verdict for Penn: “guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street”.  For Mead: nor guilty. The verdict was meaningless as no such offence had been committed.

The presiding judge, Lord Mayor of London, Sir Samuel Starling demanded to know why the jurors would not obey the directive of the court.

A leading juror Edward Bushell responded: “The court has no power in Magna Charta to dictate the jury’s verdict”!!  The Mayor shouted back “This court has any power it chooses” and ordered the jurors to find the defendants guilty.

“No, my Lord”, said Bushell, not giving way.  “This the jury will never do, for we will not betray the liberties of this country.  We know our rights under Magna Charta”.

There were cheers of support from the gallery.

Furious the judges ordered the jurors to be locked up overnight, without food, water or sanitary facilities.  Sympathetic members of the public tried to pass rations to them until stopped by troops.

After about a day of being shuttled between the Court and their jail the jurors still refused to consent and then brought in a “Not guilty” for both prisoners this time.

Each juror was made to stand alone and give the same verdict “not guilty”. This was done 24 times.  2 times 12.  Bushell told his fellow jurors, “if we give in all England will be enslaved”.  On September 5th the Court gave in.  Penn and Mead were freed. Penn went to America and founded Pennsylvania.

The Court was determined to have its revenge and the jurors were fined.  Some paid but four, led by Bushell, a wealthy man, refused. Bushell said “My liberty is not for sale”.  They were imprisoned in the hell prison Newgate and subjected to degrading treatment.

They appealed through a retired chief Justice and lifelong champion of people’s liberties Sir Richard Newdigate and Sir John Vaughn the judge hearing the case said: “The power of the jury to determine its verdict, free and untrammelled, is supreme”.  No court has the power to punish juries for their vedicts.

This liberty was also incorporated in our Bill of Rights of 1689.

Bushell had also been released by writ of habeas corpus. Since the original meeting had been peaceful and orderly the jury also established the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

This freedom now has to be defended again by determined juries against an over- mighty government in control of a supine Parliament  See also 

This is what is called  legal democracy and is the means whereby the people decide what is the law.  It is worth emphasising that no matter what the judge may direct the jury as to the politician-made law the jury may acquit on the basis that they feel the law is unjust even if technically guilty under the law, as we saw in the main story.  Please pass this onto your friends and acquaintances.

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